It’s possible I read too much post-apocalyptic fiction…

Recently I’ve been considering buying an apartment in Paris. Not immediately, but as a long-term goal. There are a variety of reasons why this might not be a terrible idea.

In the last few days, though, I’ve been struggling with a big item in the ‘don’t do it’ column. It’s not the exchange rate or the cost of a management company. My biggest fears are for the longer-term. What if there’s another financial crisis that tanks the travel industry? What happens when the oil prices go back up? What happens when the price of oil limits international travel to the rich few?

Basically, what if the zombie apocalypse?

And it’s a little bit ridiculous, but it’s also a little bit not. When things get worse – and the way we’re burning through the world’s resources, things are going to get worse in my lifetime – my investment will be on the far side of an ocean. Buying something local would be the sensible choice, because at least that way I would have a roof over my head.

I just… don’t want to let myself get talked out of this idea so easily. Clearly an apartment in Paris is not the sensible choice. It’s the crazy choice. The adventurous choice. That’s why it’s scary.

Maybe it’s okay to have the fears, to think the thoughts and come up with some contingency plans. The trick is to not get overwhelmed by them. That’s the part I’m struggling with this week.

Advertisements

Rain, rain, go away…

Overcast in the Sahara

Overcast in the Sahara.

When I was in my 20s I lived on tour with a traveling circus. For three years I moved with them from city to city, mostly in northern Europe, and no matter where we went it rained. A lot. Even the locals remarked on the unusual weather.

“It’s never usually like this at this time of year.” Continue reading

Which destination would you revisit?

I stumbled across a list of travel-related questions on Nicolette Orlemans’ blog, and I think I’m going to play with some of them here for a while.

I tried to answer the first one – what and where was your most memorable travel experience – and realized I don’t have just one answer. And that the answers I do have, I’m already writing about.

So, on to number two. Which destination would you revisit and why? At the moment, my answer is Cuba.

My sister ran a yoga retreat in Cuba in February, and begged my mother and I to join her. And, given how brutally cold this past February was, she didn’t have to beg very hard. My sister has been to Cuba many times, but I hadn’t ever been before. My decision to go was spur-of-the-moment, and I didn’t do any reading or research before I left. And, to be frank, I was really only in it for the sun.

My first impression of the country… was not great. The airport in Varadero was painfully disorganized – it took our small group of eight people three hours to get through customs and into the country. By the time we boarded the bus to drive to our resort, it was nearly midnight, so I couldn’t see any of the countryside out the window.

Really, though, the airport (both arriving and leaving) was the only sour spot of the trip. We stayed at a three star resort, which was just fine. All I wanted was the sun and the beach, so I was very easy to please. For the first couple of days the wind came in over the ocean, so jellyfish were a big problem. Halfway through the week, though, the wind shifted, the temperature went even further up (yay!) and the jellyfish were blown out to sea, which meant I got a chance to swim in the ocean.

The very best part of the trip, though, were the chances I got to leave the resort. We took a guided walk up into the hills to see some local plant life and get a lovely view back down over the resort and the beach. We also got a chance to meet some local farmers and sample their fruits. Guava, sugar cane, coconuts, all freshly cut. One man gave us a tour of his house, and another one showed off his beautiful vintage yellow jeep.

On our last full day in Cuba, my sister organized a trip to Havana. Five of us piled into two of Cuba’s beautiful vintage cars (I rode in a green 1952 Chevy with a maroon interior) to drive the hour along the coast. I loved everything about this day. Our guide, Leo, was a school teacher who gave tours in his spare time because it paid better. He was friendly and patient and knowledgeable. And I followed him through the city, just delighted by the chaos and the exuberance and the life of it all.

And I want to go back. I want to read about the history and the politics and Hemingway, do my research, and then go back and see more of the country. Meet more of the people. The people in Cuba were so wonderful, so friendly. Intrepid Travel – a tour company I’ve travelled with before – does a 15-day tour of Cuba that intrigues me. So that trip is on my list! Maybe even for this coming winter…

Crazy? Probably…

So… I’m considering buying an apartment in Paris. I’ve tried to talk about this with a couple of friends, and when I do I frame it as… a joke, or a mental exercise. A pie-in-the-sky game that’s just fun to consider.

Except, I’m seriously considering buying an apartment in Paris.

If I trace the idea back to its root, my dad is to blame. We’ve played pie-in-the-sky all my life. I learned the game from him. And then a couple of weeks ago, my 76-year-old father, who had in the recent past talked about down-sizing to a small apartment or even a retirement home, impulse-bought a 15-acre property in the countryside.

When he first brought up the idea, I thought we were playing the game again.

“Well, in that case,” I said, “I’d like an apartment in Paris, please.” Paris got into my bones when I was there this past October, and I’m planning to go back again this fall.

And then my mother called me back two hours later to tell me my dad had bought the place. He’s selling up in the city and moving out there at the end of the summer. All by himself. I have a whole separate spate of concerns about that.

Inspired – sort of – by his lunacy, I spent a couple of hours poking at my own insane idea. And it’s not quite as crazy as it sounds.

As part of my where-do-I-want-to-be-in-five-years navel gazing, I’ve been thinking it’s time to consider buying a house. The problem with that is, due to my job, I move twice a year. In the summer I work at a large theatre in a small town, in the winter I work in television in the big city. I can’t afford to buy anything in the city – and even if I could, I’d need to sublet it for eight months of the year, which is an enormous pain in the ass. If I buy in the small town, I either have to commute two hours each way to work in the city in the winter, or I find a part-time retail job in the small town and all my travel money goes towards the mortgage.

But if I buy an apartment in Paris, I can have an agency rent it out to travellers during the high tourist season and then have a base in Europe for my travels in the winter. There are certain problems this plan doesn’t solve, but I like it the best out of all my current options.

I’m going to do some research and some math, and see if rental income would realistically cover the mortgage. I want to talk to the agency I found online and get a serious idea of the costs involved and what they charge for their services. But this might just be the five-year project I’ve been looking for.

How do you choose?

I wonder sometimes how other people choose the places they want to visit. For me, I generally travel to places I’ve formed an emotional connection to, often via some kind of media. Is that weird?

One of the trips on my current to do list is sailing around the British Virgin Islands with Intrepid Travel. I’ve travelled with Intrepid twice before – once in Morocco and once in Thailand – and had a wonderful experience both times. For me, it’s the perfect compromise between adventure and an organized tour. It takes away all the stress of planning and keeping a schedule, but I don’t end up just shuffling on and off a bus. I would have toured Greece with them, too, but they didn’t run late enough into the year.

I’ve wanted to learn to sail for a few years now. I fell in love with the idea the summer I worked in Prince Edward Island, but never had the opportunity to follow through. The trip notes for the sailing adventure indicate it’s up to the individual how involved they want to get in the actual sailing of the ship, and I love that they provide that option.

The reason I chose the Caribbean as a destination, though, is largely due to a cheeseball television show I fell in love with over the winter called Death in Paradise. It’s a BBC show about a detective who gets transferred from London to the Caribbean and ends up stuck there. Which would be great, except that he hates the sun, and the sea, and the sand. It’s a simple little detective show, with a little hint of romance, and it was exactly what I wanted over the winter. The past two winters in Canada (in fact, much of North America) have been particularly cold and harsh. And even just getting to see the sun and the sea on television was a relief.

The show gave me a bit of an emotional connection to the area, and inspired my curiosity to learn more. And when I came across the Intrepid trip, it seemed an ideal combination. I wonder, though, if maybe I’m not supposed to admit this kind of thing out loud.

Zeus’ Fallen Temple

SONY DSC

The ruins of Zeus’ temple at Olympia.

The Temple of Zeus at Olympia was once a colossus of stone. Immovable. For the ages. Built around 460 BC, it stood for eight and a half centuries and sheltered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient world – a statue of Zeus thirteen metres tall made of ivory and gold.

Today the temple lies in ruins. My guide spoke of Continue reading

setting goals

This morning I had the TED radio hour podcast on while I washed the dishes. It was last week’s episode (I think) about Champions, and in a way it became a meditation on the mentality and habits of successful people. Athletes, in this case.

I’ve been thinking about life goals over the last couple of weeks, and this podcast kind of ran with that theme. Athletes have concrete goals. They know what they want, and they have a training schedule to get them there.

So I stood there with soapy hands thinking, what does my goal look like? Smell like? Taste like? Because if I can’t picture it in glowing technicolour, in all five senses, how am I ever going to know it when I meet it?

And, I realize, the goal can’t be “getting published,” because I have no control over that. The goal can’t be external validation, it has to be internal.

So, what does this mean in a concrete sense? I’m not sure yet. ‘Become a better travel writer’ is valid, but vague. Maybe it needs to be ‘finish these five pieces you’re in the middle of, even if all you ever do with them is post them on this blog.’ Maybe it’s ‘learn from what you didn’t get right last time.’ Maybe it’s ‘travel for two months out of every year.’ Maybe it’s ‘stop going back to the same damn places over and over so you can stretch a little.’ Maybe it’s ‘keep going back to that one place until you’ve said everything you want to say about it.’

I’m beginning to understand that it might be time to sit down and actually think through what the big goal is. What do I want to achieve? What does that end point feel like? And what little goals will lead me down the path to that big one?

I need to do some research, and a lot of thinking.

The Great Railway Bazaar, by Paul Theroux

I picked up The Great Railway Bazaar in an effort to broaden my travel reading beyond country guides, Michael Palin, and Bill Bryson. The Lonely Planet book recommended Paul Theroux as a ‘contemporary master of travel writing,’ so it seemed like a good place to start.

This book represents the kind of travel writing that I’m most interested in: I’m going on a journey and I’m going to take you with me. Not so different from Michael Palin or Bill Bryson for that matter. There wasn’t a larger point or any kind of manifesto – just the details of an interesting journey.

Paul Theroux’s descriptions were wonderful, more evocative, more visceral, more poetic than other travel writing I have yet encountered, and I’m sure that’s why the Lonely Planet folk recommended him. But, to be quite frank, I’d rather skip the carefully tailored words and spend the time with Messrs. Palin and Bryson instead. The narrator of The Great Railway Bazaar was a condescending, racist dick. And the complete and utter lack of women as people rather than as sexualized objects was truly appalling.

A masochistic part of me, however, is debating reading his follow up, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, where he reprises the same journey thirty years later, just to see if he has grown as a person at all.

changing gears

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been learning more about travel writing. I bought the “Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Writing” – because what better authority would there be, I suppose – as a happy-birthday-to-me present at the end of March. I’m still working my way through it.

I seem to swing back and forth on whether this is a kind of writing I want to delve into. I find the idea of writing endless click-bait pieces on the ‘5 Hottest Party Cities’, or the ’10 Most Undiscovered Gems’, or whatever, incredibly depressing. But I love to travel, and I love to write, and there is an area of longform travel writing that crosses over with creative non-fiction, so I’m nibbling around the edges of that.

Maybe all I really want to do is travel and blog. I loved writing those little posts while I was in Paris. I found it helped in contextualizing and remembering my experiences. I regret that I didn’t keep them up while I travelled around Greece, but I just ran out of hours in the day. And I was struggling with travel burn-out around the time I stayed overnight in Milan, so for a couple of days it all just kind of became about endurance.

I did continue to take photographs, though, so maybe before the memories grow too faint I’ll find some favourites and tell the stories behind them.

a few things

First of all, a correction. It turns out my ferry crossed the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, not the Aegean. Oops. Clearly it’s time to brush up on my geography.

Second of all, it’s only when I’m on the road for extended periods that I recognize the luxury that is clean pajamas. There is truly no chore I hate worse than washing clothes in the bathtub, and they never feel (or smell) properly clean afterwards anyway. I found a laundrette today (and nothing will make you watch the clock quite like hearing ‘please pick up your laundry promptly, because in three hours we close for a week’), so I’m taking a moment to appreciate fresh, clean jammies.

Third, I met up with a friend tonight – another director I worked with in Canada several years ago, who lives in Athens. We managed to find an hour at a posh cafe to catch up. I was so pleased to see him, so delighted to spend time with a familiar face. And it took me a little by surprise how sad I was to leave him at the end of our brief time. The production we worked on was very close to both of our hearts – a very special experience. I would love to work with him again, but whether that happens or not is very, very far out of my hands. And it was only as we were parting that I realized I might never see him again.

Tomorrow I board the train to Thessaloniki, which will be my last stop in Greece before I fly back to London on Monday.